Tobacco Education Center


Is the Colorado Restaurant Association in Bed with Big Tobacco? (2005)
Are two-thirds of all Colorado restaurants smoke-free?

Peter Meersman, director of the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), has recently made public statements that two-thirds of all restaurants in Colorado are smoke-free. Is this number accurate?



GASP of Colorado examined our statewide database of restaurants and bars and currently identifies 6,688 (69%) are smoke-free and 3,087 (31%) are not, and 150 unknown. The margin of error in the percentage could be 3% and the number of restaurants and bars 5%. There are an estimated 600 bars and nightclubs in Colorado and about 16% are now smoke-free. What Meersman neglects to say is that many of these became smoke-free due to local smoking limits, and that 50 to 55% of the smoke-free places qualify as fast food or take-out establishments.



Is the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) in bed with Big Tobacco?

Meersman continues to publicly deny that CRA is in bed with Big Tobacco. However, as far back as March 16, 1982, former director Donald Quinn sent a letter to all CRA members asking them to join a tobacco industry front group called TAN — the Tobacco action Network — and sent them TAN literature.



Quinn wrote, “Fortunately, we have some friends out there. That is why I’m taking the extraordinary step of sending this letter with some literature from Tan — the Tobacco Action Network which can help us defend our freedom to choose.”



Also, “Pease read the enclosed material. I urge you to sign up to get on the TAN mailing list by sending in the enrollment card. There is no charge to you. If you don’t sign up now, then be sure to stop by the TAN booth (#336) at the show to do so. See you at the convention.”



There is also ample documentation of Philip Morris donations to CRA; Philip Morris is the prime sponsor of CRA’s annual hospitality show, and numerous internal documents show that CRA and Big Tobacco have often worked together. CRA has also employed tobacco lobbyists Poncho Hays and long-time Philip Morris consultants CRL and Associates. Here are four excerpts from last year’s report on the “Tobacco Industry Involvement in Colorado.”



1) Industry proxies and allies in Colorado are well noted in the documents. The Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA, formerly the Colorado-Wyoming Restaurant Association) has long acted as an important surrogate for the tobacco industry, putting forth industry arguments in opposition to smoking restrictions statewide. Documents reveal that ties between the CRA and the Tobacco Institute have been quite strong. A 1989 draft speech brags about how the tobacco industry was able to “set the agenda” in state legislatures. Kurt Malmgren (Senior Vice President of State Activities at the Tobacco Institute) spoke of “using allies like the Colorado Restaurant Association” to help the industry.



2) In 2001 Philip Morris created a front group called the “Colorado Indoor Air Coalition” (CIAC) to promote the notion that adequate ventilation in restaurants is the sole solution to secondhand smoke exposure (a tobacco-industry tactic to prevent workplaces from becoming 100 percent smoke-free). The CIAC is headed by the Colorado Restaurant Association, along with the Rocky Mountain Association of Energy Engineers and Philip Morris USA, under the name “Options.” Philip Morris’s “Options” program disseminated information on studies which concluded that smoking bans lead to severe drops in income for businesses, and promoted the idea that smoking restriction laws take away business owners’ “choice.” Other members of the CIAC include the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, Casino Owners Association of Colorado, and the Colorado State Bowling Proprietors Association. Pete Meersman, head of the Colorado Restaurant Association, served as President and CEO of the Colorado Indoor Air Coalition. In 2001, Meersman denied that the coalition’s purpose was to thwart clean-indoor-air ordinances.



3) Campaign disclosures indicated that POGO’s* largest contribution was $5,000, given by “Host Pac,” the Colorado Restaurant Association’s (CRA) political action committee. Philip Morris did funnel some money through the Colorado Restaurant Association’s political action committee, Host-Pac. Host-Pac gave opponents of the Boulder ballot issue (POGO) $6,000 during the campaign. According to public records filed with the Secretary of State, Host-Pac received $5,000 from Philip Morris at the end of 1995 and another $7,500 at the beginning of 1996.



* POGO, People Opposed to Government Overregulation, was the opposition front group in the 1995 Boulder ballot initiative on the current Boulder smoking limits passed by the voters.



4) An article in the Montrose Daily Press portrayed Jim Kerschner*, owner of the Red Barn Restaurant, as the primary organizer of the opposition. Kerschner made no mention of receiving aid, advice or other resources from either the National Smokers’ Alliance or Philip Morris. Rather, he told the media and city council that he was “fighting for his own cause,” and said; “I’m representing myself here.” To the contrary, a Philip Morris document discovered in 2002 lists Jim Kerschner, owner of the Red Barn Restaurant in Montrose, Colorado, as a spokesperson for the cigarette company.



* The Red Barn is a member of the Colorado Restaurant Association and a primary opponent to the Montrose smoking limits.



* For more details about these four activities and documents read the 48-page report, “Tobacco Industry Involvement in Colorado.” It’s available in the GASP Education Center at http://www.gaspforair.org/gasp/gedc/index.php under the Tobacco Industry & Front Groups category.



One other item of interest: Philip Morris gave CRA $2,000 toward the end of 2002 (09/18/2002) according to records filed with the Secretary of State. In 2002-3 Host-PAC, CRA’s political-action committee, gave some of the following campaign contributions: $2,500 to Citizens for Property Tax, $5,500 to Citizens for Responsible Reform, $500 to Voice of the Electorate in Montrose 10/16/2001 (three weeks before the November 2001effort to repeal smoking restrictions on the ballot in Montrose), $2,500 to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and $3,750 to Governor Bill Owens. Host-Pac also gave the following contributions to Denver city council candidates in the May 2003 elections: $1,000 was given to: Carol Boigon, Kathy McKenzie, Charlie Brown, Elbra Edgeworth, and Jeanne Fatz. $500 was given to Rick Garcia, Peggy Lehmann, Rosemary Rodriquez, Marcia Johnson, Jeanne Robb, and Michael Hancock. These council candidates were elected or reelected. Also $2,000 was given to council candidate Bill Scheitler, and gave $3,000 to Mayoral candidate Ari Zavaras, (both were opposed to any further smoking limits in Denver), and $2,000 to council member Ed Thomas.


 



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